Could you let go of your expectations to get better, make progress, find a ‘distinct style’ or produce anything ‘interesting’ when making art?
In Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, he explains a Zen Buddhist approach “We can say either that we make progress little by little, or that we do not even expect to make progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough. There is no Nirvana outside our practice.” And “In our practice we have no particular purpose or goal.”
When making art, there is a strong desire to get better and gain more confidence so we feel we’re progressing through some (imaginary) process of evolution. This is what we’ve been taught from a young age – to focus on getting a higher grade so we can get our pat on the back and seal of approval from others. But what if we took a page out of Zen Buddhism and let go of the goal to get a metaphorical better grade?
“You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment… When your mind is wandering about elsewhere you have no chance to express yourself. But if you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can express fully your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature.” – Shunryu Suzuki
A goal-less approach may not please your ego, but your mind will benefit from the release of expectation you’ve put upon yourself.
“… we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment. When you bow, you should just bow, when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat. If you do this, the universal nature is there. In Japanese we call it ichigyo-zammai, or “one-act samadhi.” Sammai is “concentration.” Ichigyo is “one practice.” – Shunryu Suzuki
By adopting a ‘concentrated-one-practice’ approach, you become fully present in the moment. Focusing on the action of practicing with no expectations about the outcome allows you to “express your true nature.” This ultimately leads to connecting to yourself on a deeper level.
How freeing to tap into an unpressured, unperfect, slow and small art-making practice where your only focus is just to make art.